Today we continue our study through John Owen’s book, The Mortification of Sin. The idea is we read this together and that we read the corresponding chapters prior to the blog post each week. This week we consider chapters 7 and 8.
As we read, may we keep in mind Owen’s goal in writing this book as stated in the preface: “to promote the work of gospel mortification in the hearts of believers and direct them into safe paths where they will find rest for their souls.” (viii)
Chapter 7, Only Believers Can Mortify Sin
In this chapter Owen begins to consider the general rules and principles that are necessary to gain true victory in our fight against sin. The first, and perhaps most important, rule is this:
Unless a man is a true believer, and grafted into Christ, he can never mortify a single sin.
Owen has already made it clear that mortification is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is only given to those who are united to Jesus Christ, to those who are Christians. Thus, it follows that only those who have the Spirit can have any hope of mortifying sin in their lives.
We have seen that the Spirit alone can truly mortify sin; He has promised to do it, and all other means without Him are empty and vain.
He has promised to do it. Be encouraged by those words. All those who have the Spirit, in other words, all Christians, do have certain hope that the Spirit in them will mortify sin in their lives. Sin will not get the final say or the upper hand. It has been defeated decisively at the cross of Jesus Christ and it will be defeated finally (and completely eradicated) when we meet Jesus face to face, either at his second coming or when he calls us home. In the in between time, the already / not yet time, all believers have the hope that we will be made more and more like Jesus and will, by the power of the Spirit, mortify sin more and more. As the catechism says, the Spirit enables us “more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness”.
At the same time, those who are not Christians should not be encouraged to mortify sin in their lives. What?! Does this mean we encourage people who do not know and love Jesus to live as they please and indulge in sin? No, of course not. It simply means we encourage them to deal with the root of the problem in their lives before they attempt to bear new fruit. Owen says there are three serious problems for people who seek mortification without knowing Jesus:
The mind and soul are diverted from that which is most important. (They need to seek conversion first!)
This duty, being a good thing in itself and in its proper place, tends to bring a false peace to the conscience.
When a man has for a season such soul deception, and then finds out after the long course of his life that his sin was not truly mortified, or that he has just changed one sin for another, he begins to believe that victory over sin is impossible.
This is a good time for us all to examine our own hearts and lives. Before we continue in our fight against sin we should ask: Do I have the Spirit? Have I repented of my sin and acknowledged my need for a Savior and am I trusting in Jesus Christ alone for salvation?
Chapter 8, God Requires Universal Obedience
Owen’s second general rule in the fight against sin is this:
You cannot mortify a specific lust that is troubling you, unless you are seeking to obey the Lord from the heart in all areas!
What an important point for us to consider! This was certainly an eye-opener for me. It made me think of Jerry Bridges’ book, Respectable Sins. I think it is easy for us to think we are doing well in our fight against sin if we are not guilty of any of the “major” sins: murder, adultery, lying, stealing, looking at pornography, etc. But what about complaining, selfishness, gluttony, laziness, or neglecting to seek after God?
We must hate all sin, as sin, and not just that which troubles us. . . If you hate sin as sin, and every evil way, you would be watchful against everything that grieves and disquiets the Spirit of God. . . We must not be concerned only with that which troubles us, but with all that troubles God. God’s work is to have full victory, and universal obedience, not just the victory over the sins which trouble our soul.
If we will do anything, we must do everything. So, then, our need is not only an intense opposition to this or that particular lust, but a universal humble frame and temper of heart that watches over every evil, and seeks the performance of every duty that is pleasing to God.
Read chapters 9-10 by next Wednesday, November 25.
It would be great to hear what you gained from these chapters. Feel free to post comments below or talk with one another about what you are reading. Do not feel that you need to say anything shocking or profound. Just share what stirred your heart or what gave you pause or what confused you. Let’s make sure we’re reading this book together.